Film in COVID: Creating New Ways to Expand Reach and Vision

In this global pandemic time, philanthropic resources are stretching to a maximum. As well, our vision of what is philanthropic is also expanding. For the many of us working in film in COVID, we are isolated in our homes, our intercommunications online have tripled and quadrupled. Virtual meetings and presentations abound. We are tackling service in entirely new ways and through newly chartered venues.

From the Women Make Movies website, promoting their Virtual Film Festival. THE REST I MAKE UP began March 27. (Image Credit: WMM)

The independent film community is rallying around extending ways it can serve both its filmmakers and audiences – all while shut in at home. The Art House Convergence community listserv initiated a discussion early on and set some guidelines about safety as the coronavirus started to spread in the United States. Two days before SXSW cancelled, members of AHC pondered “when and if” questions. Then, one by one, art house movie theatres posted their closing statements, and a discussion emerged on what message to place on the empty marquees.

Resources on Film in COVID

A resource page was developed, that has a full map of all the closed movie theaters. Below that are a plethora of resources. Under Advocate for Arts Funding and Support, I urge everyone to take the American for the Arts COVID-19 Impact Survey. It does not cover individual artists’ needs sufficiently, but it still helps document these needs to help address them. Various online platforms and other solutions are listed. The page is periodically updated, so keep checking back.

A virtual meeting involving about 115 members of AHC covered technical equipment shutdown issues, how to pay staff during the closure, and ways to move film screenings online to serve people isolated in their homes. Unlike sports–March Madness, the opening of the baseball season and even the Olympics that are all completely cancelled–these community movie theaters, in a reverse of their usual model, are able to actually serve audiences at home through the myriad of virtual streaming platforms.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival, a little more than a week before I was to fly to showcase two programs on 1970s works, sent a message March 13th: “We have made the incredibly difficult decision to suspend all in-person events for the 58th Ann Arbor Film Festival.” Instead, for their films in competition, they went online. This remarkable transformed festival, which includes virtual discussions with filmmakers at the end of each session, ends March 29th. Check out their schedule.

Women Make Movies* sent out an email message, also on March 13, to its filmmaker community. Linked within it is their webpage, “Resources for Artists with Lost or Reduced Wages.” Among this list of resources is a link to WomenArts Emergency Grants. At the bottom of the page is a form for you to contribute additional resources. There is also an extensive list of regional resources, though it was made prior to Covid-19.

To celebrate Women’s History Month during the month of March, Women Make Movies had created a Virtual Film Festival. Thus far they have had 2500 participants from 65 countries. They are now in the process of expanding the program to include additional works in their collection in a new series, Films Interrupted, responding to how almost 1/3 of the world’s population is sheltered at home. Anyone can sign up for free. Learn more about the festival here.

WMM, too, has had online meetings for its community. 62 of their filmmakers joined a catch-up session the other day with WMM staff while sequestered in their own homes. Staff went over housekeeping mechanics in how they are handling their work given almost all online activities. There was discussion around film festivals that were able to or are expecting to be online. Various platforms to assist with getting film to audiences in their homes were also mentioned.

Many films scheduled to open at a vast array of film festivals are now in a limbo-land of how to launch when there are numerous contractual restrictions for on-line and community use. Just posted today on Women and Hollywood, is “These Projects Have Been Affected by Coronavirus. Here’s How You Can Help. (Volume II)” March 19th was the first version of seven other films by women that have been pulled the festival circuit. The entire film community is in flux. As some doors are closing, others are opening up. More developments are to come.

Creative Capital, the major national funder of artists that filled the vacuum when Congress restricted the National Endowment for the Arts from funding individual artists, has a page listing Arts Resources. Many dozens of possible emergency funding opportunities are listed for both organizations and individuals. They also have a link to scores of arts events that have moved online. I am confident that this list will continue to grown.

Eventually the pandemic will subside and people will hug one another again, instead of staying 6 feet apart. But the delivery of a mass amount of culture – from the balcony ballads in Spain to the new series of film festivals online – has been transformed forever. These moments are healing in and of themselves, human actions of goodwill.

* full disclosure, I am this organization’s, co-founder.


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Author: Ariel Dougherty

Ariel Dougherty is a teacher, filmmaker, producer and mentor for women directed media/culture of all stripes. SWEET BANANAS (director, 1973) and !WOMEN ART REVOLUTION (Producer, 2010) are among the hundreds of films she has worked on. She writes at the intersections of women-identified media, especially film production, women's human rights, and funding for film. Currently, she is working on a book entitled Feminist Filmmaking Within Communities.

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